Hong Kong Basic Law

No idea how joint immigration checkpoint for China rail link can fit with Hong Kong law, ex-Legco president says

Jasper Tsang says he is waiting for the government to come up with solutions to thorny issue, which threatens to derail benefits of major infrastructure project

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 8:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 4:04pm

A former president of Hong Kong’s legislature says he “cannot think of how” a controversial plan for joint law enforcement with the mainland at the Hong Kong terminal for an express rail link could fit with the city’s mini-constitution.

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, also a founding chairman of Hong Kong’s largest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he was waiting for the government to enlighten him on possible solutions.

His comments came just days after Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned that the benefits of the railway to Guangzhou “would be undermined” without immigration checkpoints run by both Hong Kong and mainland authorities at the West Kowloon station.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-H­ong Kong Express Rail Link, due to open next year, will pose the first major challenge for Lam’s administration, facing as it does major opposition from pan-democratic lawmakers in the Legislative Council. The new government plans to table a bill outlining the law enforcement plans after Legco’s summer break.

Under Article 18 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, mainland laws can only be applied in Hong Kong if they are related to defence or foreign affairs, or are “matters outside the limits of the city’s autonomy”. Such laws must be listed in Annex III of the Basic Law, the article states.

In an interview with former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing on Thursday, Tsang was asked how “co-location” of checkpoints could be allowed under Hong Kong law.

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“I can only say I cannot think of [an answer] ... but at least Lam and her principal officials have said clearly that they will find a proposal that fits the Basic Law,” said Tsang, who oversaw the passing of countless pieces of legislation as Legco president between 2008 and last year.

“You should wait for it before criticising.”

Tsang said he did not believe the mainland’s immigration laws could be applied in Hong Kong by listing them in Annex III.

“There is no such rule that a law listed in the annex can be applied in a particular area in the city ... so I think it is not quite feasible to do that,” he said.

Tsang added that if the proposal ended up being met with disapproval from the vast majority of Hong Kong residents, the government should reconsider whether to push it through the legislature.

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“If everybody is saying that the price to be paid, in terms of legal principles and for the ‘one country, two systems’ formula, is too heavy, then I believe that Lam ... would reconsider what to do,” he said.

Attending her first question-and-answer session at Legco on Wednesday last week, Lam announced several measures to improve the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of Hong Kong’s government, which felt the strain under her predecessor Leung Chun-ying. Lam instructed her ministers to lobby lawmakers on important issues and not leave the job to anyone else.

Her instructions followed accusations that officials from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong had been involved in that process during Leung’s term in office.

Tsang said he had noticed that in contrast to the tense relationship with Leung experienced by many pan-democratic lawmakers, the opposition camp had so far shown willing to communicate with Lam, especially after she announced her measures last Wednesday.

But Lam would understand that the relationship between the two branches would never be excessively good, Tsang said, as it was Legco’s duty to monitor the administration.

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She also opted last Wednesday not to follow Leung’s example of speaking from a stage set up in front of the Legco president’s seat, rather choosing to position herself to the right of it.

Leung was criticised for “disrespecting” lawmakers when he first moved the stage in January 2014 to deliver his policy address. His office at the time said the lighting was better there, but Tsang told a different story on Thursday, saying Leung had told him he wanted a stage set up in front of the president’s seat so cameras could capture both the president and himself in one shot.

“But it was difficult for us to communicate, because I could not see his face,” Tsang said.